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The Pros and Cons Of Retro Gaming

January 5th, 2011 by

Let us be clear, I am definitely in the midlife gamer demographic.  My earliest gaming memory is playing a wood effect Atari at my Nan’s, the first system I owned was a rubber key speccy with the 6 game pack (Horace Goes Skiing was rubbish even then!)

However, I gave up gaming at a tender age, lured by the triple crown of beer, women and  Warhammer 40K.  I missed out on the 8-bit console age, was only partially aware of the Megadrive/SNES war, and the age of Doom on the PC completely passed me by.

However, in 1997, the “little grey box” lured me in with its stunning graphics and big-breasted heroine, and I have never looked back.  The big gap in my gaming experience, coupled with not really being aware of what was going on in the speccy days, has left with a consuming desire for all things retro.

Herein lies the problem:  I love reading about old games, finding out the links between modern games and their progenitors, looking at obscure hardware and how characters have changed.  I am addicted to reading about how revolutionary Street Fighter II was, or how The Secret of Monkey Island changed people’s lives forever.  Actually playing these games is a different matter.

Here is a controversial opinion:  Most retro games are rubbish.  I will now wait whilst lots of you start shouting abuse at your screens and log off in disgust.  However, by modern standards old games are limited, often too hard and of poor quality.  This doesn’t mean they are unimportant, just as the Model T Ford is important.  You wouldn’t want one for your daily commute though.

So why are some retro games still awesome, and others just great at the time?  Mostly it comes down to game design.  Lots of games were (and still are) dependent on their technology to impress, and this obviously cannot stand the test of time.  Examples are  Speedball 2, Mercenary, Virtua Fighter.  These all were top games at the time, but now seem very limited and not very entertaining.

Other games have classic design, that transcend graphics.  Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Elite are all still playable today.  Many Nintendo and Capcom games exemplify this perfectly, Street Fighter II is still amazing, even if you are rubbish at fighting games like me.  Legend of Zelda, links awakening is an old game on limited hardware, yet still captivates nearly 20 years later.

So if most old games are rubbish, why do I buy magazines, spend money on compilations and downloadable games, and still have my old speccy in the loft?  Because just like old sci-fi films cannot hope to match the CGI of Avatar, watching them can inform and give context to the latest classics, old games should be celebrated as the forefathers of the modern games we love so much.

Where would Black Ops be without Doom?  Would we have Assassin’s Creed without Prince of Persia?  Retro games are awesome, but sometimes they should be worshipped from afar, lest their memory be sullied by actually playing them!

Would we have Gran Turismo if it weren't for Ninja Scooter Simulator? Hmm?

5 Responses to “The Pros and Cons Of Retro Gaming”
  1. avatar barley says:

    Right,

    Just joined to the site (Hello) because of the Awesome podcasts that I stumbled on a few months ago.
    I really enjoyed your post and think that you hit the nail on the head.

    I’m 35 and have been playing games since about 6 years old, I loved games like spy Vs spy and Barry Guigan’s Boxing when my dad actually let me have a turn. Then Wonder boy, Cybernoid 2, Kick Start and various others on the Bad Boy Gangster “C64″.

    I have had most consoles since the sega and nintendo 8 bit systems, apart from the Neo Geo as that was silly money.

    But going back and playing most of these games is another matter, some things are best left as happy memories, when your a kid you dont care that a game should have save points, or you only have have a few credits, or the game is ridiculously hard.
    There are some exceptions to the rule of course but they are in the minority.

    But those games are the great grandfathers of the things of beauty that we play now,
    and I regularly force my kids to play them so they will not be forgotten.
    (They will thank me one day)

  2. avatar mym1nd says:

    I too have a large gap in my experience. But I have used sites like GOG to help bring me upto speed, to fill in the gaps in the history and to allow me to finally see what people were talking about in high school.

    But I agree that most, by today’s standards, don’t hold up well. But neither does the story or CGI in Babylon 5 despite still being my favourite TV show of all time. You just need to bear this in mind whenever approaching any old game, and more so any modern interpretations.

  3. avatar Adamski UK says:

    Great article…tell it like it is!
    I was just contemplating your comparison to the movie industry.
    Games and films both rely heavily (in general terms) on audio and visual stimuli and we have seen these industries come on in leaps and bounds in terms of technology.
    But there are still some silent movies (Laurel & Hardy) that are far superior to contemporary efforts.

    I was thinking about other entertainment mediums (not the Russell Grant sort) and how they ‘mature’ with age.
    Books? Nope, still rock solid stories from hundreds of years ago.
    Music? Nope, same as above.
    Art (Painting/Sculpture)? Nope. Majority of artists don’t have a pot to piss in until they’re dead and buried.

    Is it the delivery of games? I mean the system hardware and the environment?
    Playing Paperboy via Mame on your PC is just no where near the experience of playing the arcade cabinet on the end of a pier with the smell of sea water and candy floss!
    Running with this, I think the happy memories of retro gaming come from what was going on at the time in ones life.

    Once I’d loaded up a game on my Speccy (rubber keyed of course), I’d stick the Radio 1 Top 40 tape in and listen to Bruno Brookes count down the chart.

    Happy, happy days indeed.

  4. avatar thechymist says:

    Thanks for all the comments guys, really appeciate it.

    Mym1nd, I thought my next piece might be about GOG, and on a wider note copyright for older games and flexible ways of using it, so glad you bought it up.

    Adamski, the comparison with books, art and music made me think. Games are always compared to movies, but both art forms are relatively new. Maybe thousands of years ago music made huge leaps forwards every few years, and games and films may stabilise too once they have been around for hundreds of years. I also take the point about laurel and Hardy, maybe space invaders is the gaming equivalent, simple but classic.

  5. avatar CountingRooms says:

    I am of a simliar demographic. I identify with much of what you are saying. For me Elite just gets better and better. Forget fancy graphics, gaming is all about taking you to another place (and or time). On the flip side, who actually watched Avatar for the story? Nothing wrong with a bit of eye-candy for a few hours, a good game will take weeks or months of immersion.

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